Always, I want to fix it.
When my 8-year-old lost her mini iPad, I knelt down and told her we could get a new one. I was ready to swipe my credit card at the Apple Store in order to make my child stop crying.
When my son practically stopped talking for a month after he started high school, I chiseled away at his discomfort with my words: "How was school? You don't seem happy. You could easily transfer to another school." After weeks of blabbing, I swung into action and volunteered at the high school library so that I could accumulate an arsenal of knowledge with which to relieve his misery.
Last night, it looked as if my daughter had laid a finger on her own acne and I couldn't shut up: "It's best not to touch your face at all -- believe me, I know from having been a teenager." What was I doing? Protecting her from a pimple?
Is my Mama-Fix-It mode simply human nature? Mothers lift up cars to save their toddlers and swim like Olympians in order to rescue their exhausted teenagers from the riptide. It is our highest calling to stand between our kids and the woes dealt to them by the universe. We are superheroes, saving mankind by protecting the future generations.
But I am not shielding my kids from death, doom and destruction. I am saving them from their own uncomfortable feelings and experiences. It doesn't matter how small the bump in the road, I want to steer my kids around it. What game am I playing? Is it that I want to be a good mom and good moms have happy kids? Or maybe their unhappiness reveals a lack of effort or shoddy character on my part. I should have steered my son toward another high school or been more attentive when we were doing errands and my daughter left her iPad at the Bubble Tea place. A little sadness on the part of my child sets off a chant inside my head: Bad mother, bad mother, bad mother.
That crazy piece of my ego makes me lose out. When I override my daughter's tears with my words and actions, I miss the chance to experience her vulnerability. She is a huge reader and I thought she was sad to have lost the books on her iPad, so I immediately explained that we could still access the books. She only cried harder while I blathered on. After a few minutes I realized that I was trying to prevent my own discomfort and not hers. I took a deep breath and listened. It turns out that she was upset to have lost her photographs. She said, "I lost part of my life. Just lost it." She could barely breathe. This is the child who wants to go to the same place on vacation every year and eat at the same restaurants. She values her past and the threads of continuity in her life. Once I shut up, I remembered that she had once said to me, "I like traditions."
Some things are plain upsetting: a dropped ice cream cone, a sick grandmother, or a friend who moves away. But, for each of us, the nature of our sadness is unique. Our experience of life's events is multi-layered and nuanced. With their tears and their silences, our children are sharing with us what moves them, what scares them, and what they imagine could happen. They are exposing their soft and vulnerable centers. When we too quickly meet our children's vulnerability with words and actions, we can actually stand in the way of our kids getting to know themselves. If I put on my superhero cape and come on too strong, my child has to react to me instead of experiencing herself. When my daughter said, "NO MAMA, I DON'T WANT A NEW IPAD," she was inviting me to witness her uncovering her own vulnerability.
Who else wants to show me what is really going down? Not that many people. Parenthood allows us close proximity to another's humanity. When I walk quietly alongside my kids as they unfold, I experience their natures without any veils or protections. Why shut down that opportunity with my fix-it-kit project of words and actions? Perhaps truly experiencing another's vulnerability reminds me of my own, and I'd rather get a root canal than remember how deeply life touches me. I can handle misplacing books on an iPad -- but the experience of loss, either in the form of a photograph or a lost childhood friend? That makes me feel too vulnerable and exposed. If I could simply get out of my own way, my kids' tears would remind me of how soft and beautiful each one of us is inside.
This is the ninth in a series of 10 posts by Paula Throckmorton about (re)discovering ourselves through motherhood. Follow along with the hashtag #HoldingLove!